I spy with my little eye… another iPod

By Matt Strom

I take quite a risk assaulting the iPod in my very first column. But the ubiquity of the digital music player disturbs me. Once a fad, now virtually a necessity, the iPod and its primary manufacturer, Apple, dominate the digital music industry. I, a humble servant of all things lacking the enigmatic prefix “i,” am speaking out to give a fighting chance to other digital media devices. However, in an effort to ward off any perceivable hostility that may come my way, I will try to be as objective as possible, starting first with the positive attributes of the iPod …

The iPod did not ascend to its lofty throne solely on the beauty of its monochromatic, homogenous design. The iPod has an irrefutably simplistic and innovative user interface. Coupled with its desktop sibling iTunes, the iPod is unbeatable in its access to vast libraries of digital music. Furthermore, the iPod offers the most mobile storage capacity to date, 60 GB. There are, however, numerous downsides to the iPod. In order for the iPod to boast the storage capacity it does, it employs a mechanical hard drive that is susceptible to damage from jostling and abrupt movement (this excludes the iPod shuffle, which employs Flash memory). This means no running with your iPod – unless, of course, you have purchased the warranty plan. Additionally, the iPod’s price range still remains between $200 and $400 for a 4 GB iPod mini to the 60 GB iPod photo, respectively, despite common electronic economics. Furthermore, iPods offer little versatility in a single device. At present, iPods only support music files (limited formats at that), or with the iPod photo, graphical files as well.

Thus far, we have examined the pros and cons of the iPod. Now let us take a look at the alternatives. For those of you who simply loathe conformity (or Apple), your options are plentiful. They include the Dell Digital Jukebox and the Creative Zen as well as all the devices I describe here on out. Both Dell and Creative sell digital music players with mechanical hard drives; however, the storage capacities for these devices max out at 30 GB for the Dell DJ and 20 GB for the standard Creative Zen. They too, however, have the same drawback from having a mechanical hard drive as the iPod does. If this drawback concerns you, consider instead Flash drive based digital players, frequently called just MP3 players. These devices employ a solid-state memory drive that has no mechanical parts and therefore tend to be much smaller than even the iPod mini. I would be negligent if I did not mention that the iPod shuffle is an example of such a device. Unlike the iPod shuffle, though, many Flash-based digital players use removable memory cards such as Secure Digital (SD) cards, which can effectively make their storage capacity limitless. Moreover, the price range for Flash-based digital players has a much lower bound, approximately $60. Finally, for those of you who prefer for a device to have more functionality than just playing songs, there is a myriad of options for digital music players. Most modern personal data assistants (you may also know them as Palm Pilots or Pocket PC’s) combine a digital player with a plethora of productivity applications. The HP line of Pocket PC’s, for example, includes various models with exciting features such as synchronization with a personal information manager such as Outlook, integrated wireless Internet connectivity and a built-in camera. A new breed of cell phones, called Smartphones, has emerged that offers similar functionality as personal data assistants along with a built-in digital music player. Most personal data assistants and Smartphones also feature media card slots for expandable storage. With a personal data assistant or a Smartphone, you can have your calendar, address book, to do list, camera and digital player all in one device.

I hope I have faithfully represented my under-recognized constituents and shown you the world that lies beyond the iPod. And if all goes well, maybe I will have even helped chisel away at a part of Apple’s market share of the digital music industry.